In Lieu of Flowers: Not Quite As Simple As It Seems

Feb 08, 2015


A funeral director recently said "A funeral without flowers is a big step towards no funeral at all”. That means that the harmless sounding phrase "in lieu of flowers" can have serious consequences.


“In lieu of flowers” is very interesting. I remember when I first started seeing the term and thinking “wow - that family must have had a really strong connection to that charity”. That might sometimes have been the case, but the reality was often far less charitable and much more calculating.

“In lieu of flowers” didn’t start with a family that felt so strongly that they wanted to raise money for a specific charity. It started with the charities looking for additional revenue streams. The charities themselves do great work, but remember that a large percentage of the money they raise goes to the people that help them raise it.

The people in charge of fundraising are generally very well compensated (often hundreds of thousands per years, sometimes millions), and that compensation is based largely on how much revenue they can generate. That means they are always looking for new sources of revenue.

This is how “In lieu of flowers” started. The charities then went out to funeral directors to spread this message. Funeral directors typically help a bereaved family arrange all aspects of a funeral, including placing obituary notices. The charities coached funeral directors to encourage bereaved families to use the phrase “In lieu of flowers…” in obituaries.

This is a practice that continues. A recent survey of funeral directors confirmed that a large majority are contacted by fundraisers on a regular basis – aggressively encouraging wider use of the term “in lieu of flowers”.

The term caught on because of a little twist – even though flowers have traditionally been an important part of the funeral process, funeral directors don’t really like dealing with flowers. Sympathy arrangements are often big, heavy and awkward to move around, but also somewhat fragile. They need a lot of water, and sometimes spill. They sometimes drop leaves or petals on the carpet.

And, when the service is done, the funeral home needs to deal with them. All this meant extra work for the funeral directors, and “in lieu of flowers” appealed to many of them as it meant that they might not have to deal with flowers.

The problem is that flowers are incredibly important. The survey mentioned above also reported the following:


  • Funeral directors considered flowers and plants as providing the most comfort to the bereaved, followed by sympathy cards, for non-human sources of comfort.
  • Seventy-three percent of funeral directors believe their clients recall flowers and plants as a comfort.
  • Seventy-four percent of funeral directors encourage flowers at the services.
  • Funeral directors recall approximately 64% of clients talking about flowers/plants.


Flowers provide a great deal of comfort to loved ones, and added needed warmth, color and beauty to the proceedings. Too many families followed the “In lieu of path” only to be taken aback by how cold the viewing and service actually looked without flowers.


The great thing is that funeral directors, a very caring group who really do want to provide comfort to families, now understand this. As one funeral director said “A funeral without flowers is a big step towards no funeral at all” and that isn’t good for anybody.


The new study shows that, having realized the importance of flowers, the large majority of funeral directors are back to encouraging flowers at funeral services. Nuisance or not they now see how much comfort they bring and recognize their importance.

Category: Buying Flowers

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